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I’m getting into writing assessments for next year, and it’s clear that some aspects of our assessment model need to change. The main drivers for me are the need to increase engagement in online learning activities, workload reduction, and improving feedback.

Assess them and they will come

In my review of how things have gone this year, one of the things that’s really stood out for me is the fact that the level of participation in the learning activities that I set for my students this year was not even close to a level that I would be satisfied with. It’s clear to me that their learning has been impaired as a result (or at least their learning of the material that I wanted them to learn), and I’m pretty sure that the one thing that would have led to more participation would be more assessment.

Taming the workload beast

But we already spend too much time marking assessment! In a recent staff meeting, we talked at length about workload reduction. One thing that takes up a considerable amount of our time is marking assessment. I’m sure that I can design assessments to involve less workload for the assessor.

Anderson describes a range of methods that may act to reduce assessment-related workload for teachers (2008)

  • Automated assessment processes – ranging from formative tests (simple) to virtual labs and simulation exercises (complex)
  • Online automated tutors
  • Use of neural networks & other artificial intelligence methods
  • Peer review (of either students within a specific course, or students within a network of similar courses)
  • Student creation of open educational resources which are then assessed by lifelong learners who are using the resources (Farmer, 2005 as cited by Anderson, 2008)

Formative tests are fairly straightforward to implement. They take some time to set up, but then they’re there to use year on year. I have thought about creating a simulated clinical environment in second life, but at this point, the creation of automatically marked simulations is well out of my financial ballpark, so I’ll move on.

The next two are also a bit too high tech, and high budget.

The last two options are possible if the students of the course are a part of a learning network. (Anderson, 2008). One of my goals for the future is to develop this network, but I think it’ll take at least a couple of years of students moving through the programme before this happens to any particular degree.


Feedback is crucial to the learning process, and this is something that we can definitely improve on. Formative tests that provide feedback directly following the student’s performance provide a wonderful development opportunity for students, and I believe that this is one of the real strengths of online education. According to Shepard (2000 as cited in Caplan & Graham, 2008), and Wiggins (2004), providing detailed feedback as close as possible to the performance of the assessed behaviour enhances student learning.

We should strive to “create assessments that provide better feedback by design” (Wiggins, 2004). I was inspired last year by the way in which Montessori school activities are based on this principle. Learning activities can be designed to provide feedback to students in the absence of the teacher. This can be facilitated through instructional design (Wiggins, 2004), or through social networks (Anderson, 2008). In my experience when courses I’ve been engaged with have required blogging, a community of learners has developed, where the learners have begun to support each other in their learning.

3 phase assessment process

After considering all of this, I’ve come up with a three phase assessment process that I think would be fairly ideal for most of our online courses. Phase 1 and 2 here test different grades of knowledge (simple/moderate complexity) & overlap in temporal space.

  1. Automated formative testing to test knowledge of discrete chunks of knowledge.
    Facilitator’s role: establish test, monitor results
  2. Reflective blogging on key concepts in the first ½ of the course. Students required to post on each topic, rewarded for commenting, updating the work they’ve done based on future learning, and referencing.
    Facilitator’s role: Monitor class activity, encourage engagement, Provide generalised feedback
  3. Final theoretical assessment which integrates learning.
    Facilitator’s role: Mark assessment, provide feedback & opportunity for resubmission

Students are therefore rewarded for acting as good community members, are given feedback on their developing understanding & are assessed for their integration of knowledge.

The one slight issue with this model is that if anything, I can see myself doing more assessing in this than I was doing previously. However the formative assessment that I’ll do in the early stages of the courses will be integrated with my teaching, so in effect I believe I could save time with this approach.

What do you think? Can you see any big holes in my thinking here?


Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 45-74). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Caplan, D., Graham, R. (2008). The development of online courses. In T. Anderson (Eds.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 245-264). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Wiggins, G. (2004). Assessment as feedback. Retrieved December 11, 2008 from

I’ve been using Google docs quite a bit this year, and I’ve noticed that in the last couple of months they’ve added some features that increase their attractiveness quite a bit to me.

You’ve been able to publish your documents to the web for some time so that anyone can view them.  But recently the function of making the documents able to be edited by anyone has been added.  In my mind this provides the openness that makes wikis so attractive with the usability that has always been an issue.

I’m now considering moving all of my development to the Google docs platform.  Can anyone think of any reasons why this wouldn’t be a good idea?

I’ve just converted one of my wiki pages over to two different Google presentation formats.  Here they are as a comparison

  1. Wiki page
  2. Google document version
  3. Google presentation version

Which do you like better?

Google docs have also recently release a survey form which shows promise as a formative testing programme, but it doesn’t yet do what I want it to.  I’m sure that within a year they’ll have something that does the job.

I’ve been using collaborative document editing a lot with my students this year, and while this has been one of my more successful educational experiments, referencing is a problem.

The issue occurs because I would like my students to correctly reference their sources using APA referencing (the gold standard in the health professions), however it’s also important that they record their contributions.   Typically when a document is published, the authors write their names at the top either in order of contributional significance or status.  When many authors are collaboratively editing the same document merely recording the authors names at the top of the document as an author is really insufficient.

If student A comes along & contributes 2/3 of the content, student B contributes most of the rest, and students C-G make merely superficial changes, why should all of them be given equal credit for this work?  It seems that there’s a need for each contribution to be referenced according to both the original source of the material, and the contributor of that information to the collaborative document editing project.

So far, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how this can be achieved, but it seems that the old style of referencing doesn’t stack up to these new methods of document creation.  Perhaps we need an APA 2.0, or something new altogether.

I’d be interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences and/or thoughts on this matter.

The Wiki-Educator Massage Therapy Educational Resources project has just been launched.

It’s intended that the wiki project page will act as a hub for international massage educators to collaborate on open-content educational resources.  I’ve now established the initial structure of the page (expecting that this will change over time somewhat as others become involved).  After a discussion with Leigh Blackall, have decided that it would be best if there were two categories on the front page

  1. The Library section is intended to be fairly unstructured to make it easier for contributors to load their resources to the wiki-page
  2. The Learning Outcomes section is intended to provide a logical structure for the placement of learning resources.  The learning outcomes are based on some which are commonly used in New Zealand, and it’s also hoped that as international contributors become involved, some discussion will occur around these learning outcomes.  I’m hoping that through this process we can start moving towards some internationally recognised standards for massage therapy education.

Someone will need to transfer the material loaded to the library into the structured learning outcomes section.  This will probably be me in the short-term, but there’s a prospect for government funding through AKO Aotearoa.

I’m about to send an email out to all massage education providers within New Zealand asking for interest, and from there will get in touch with my contacts in Australia & the US.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.